40 Musical Icons Who Continue To Prove Country Is Still The One – And What They’re Up To Now

The world of country music has seen many amazing singers rise to the top of the industry. Sadly, some of the most iconic ones are no longer with us. But others remain trailblazers, famous not just for their music but their personalities, too. Plenty more seem to have burnt out – but have they really? Here are 40 fascinating stories.

40. Maren Morris

Maren Morris was involved in music from a very young age. She began writing tracks before her teens and her debut came out when was just 15. Talent like hers doesn’t go unnoticed for long – these days, the 30-year-old Morris is a Grammy winner and part of the all-female band The Highwomen. Her star looks set to only rise in the future.

39. Willie Nelson

A younger Willie Nelson invented a whole new genre of country – what the world now calls outlaw music. Today he’s basically a living legend and still very popular. The “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain” singer isn’t letting old age slow him down either. In 2015, at the age of 82, the still-active Nelson told The Guardian, “I think I’m singing better than I did 40 years ago.”

38. Jo Dee Messina

Messina was a big country star by the start of the 2000s thanks to her work ethic and determination. But her life then took a difficult turn. In 2017 she had to take a prolonged break because of a cancer diagnosis, and in the same period Messina and her partner separated as well. It was an awful time for her, but the country music scene gave Messina the support she needed.

37. Rascal Flatts

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For 20 years Rascal Flatts were a successful band with an army of fans, but they eventually decided it couldn’t last forever. At the beginning of 2020 they revealed they’d be performing a series of farewell concerts and then splitting. Yet the pandemic later in the year put all their plans on hold. And despite everything, all three band members – Jay DeMarcus, Joe Don Rooney and Gary LeVox – remain grateful to be part of music history.

36. Travis Tritt

Travis Tritt was a big country music name in the 1990s, and he balanced his singing with an acting career that saw him pop up in shows such as Diagnosis Murder. But his star has faded since then. He did make headlines in 2019, yet unfortunately it was for a saddening reason. His tour bus was involved in an accident in which two people lost their lives.

35. Joe Nichols

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Joe Nichols rose to fame with the success of his song “The Impossible.” But he faced many difficulties in its aftermath. During the fall of 2007 he entered rehab, and then for the next few years he and his wife Heather Singleton tried in vain to start a family. They were able to have two little girls in the end, though. Nichols has since started his life anew and has more new music planned.

34. Dierks Bentley

Dierks Bentley has done pretty well for himself, to say the least. In 2004 he won Best New Artist at the Country Music Awards, and then a year later he was inducted into the Grand Ole Opry. Sure, he may not be the household name some of his contemporaries have become, but he’s been consistently successful. Early in 2020 he released a new track, “Gone” – the very opposite of his career trajectory.

33. LeAnn Rimes

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LeAnn Rimes was huge in the 1090s. In 1997 she became, when just 14 years old, the youngest ever Grammy winner. But she couldn’t maintain that level of success. Her albums started to flop and people grew more interested in her personal life instead. That also didn’t last, though – she tried to make it as a reality star in 2015 but her series wasn’t renewed.

32. Kenny Chesney

Kenny Chesney’s career has maintained a pretty constant level of success ever since 1994, when he released his debut record. His love life has been more complicated, though. In 2005 he wed Renée Zellweger, but the marriage lasted only months and collapsed in a storm of controversy. Rumors constantly abound that Chesney is actually gay, thanks in part to an ambiguous interview Zellweger gave in 2020. But really, would it matter?

31. Eric Church

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Eric Church was successful right from the beginning of his career with his album Sinners Like Me. And he only became more famous from there, as Church’s next two releases were even bigger hits. He’s lived life in the spotlight ever since, although his music has changed over the years. These days it has much more of a social conscience.

30. Kane Brown

Kane Brown is one of the few biracial people in the country music world. And since rising to fame in 2016 he’s become a very rich man. In 2020 he talked about his evolution as an artist to the Evening Standard newspaper, saying, “I was a nervous wreck coming into the country music scene, and I did feel like I had to dress a certain way and do certain things. Now I’m at a point where I can do my own thing.”

29. Jason Aldean

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People who knew Jason Aldean in his early years might have thought he’d never make it. He devoted a lot of time to becoming a country music star in Nashville but kept getting rejected. Finally, though, in 2005 he found success with “Hicktown” and won the fame he wanted. He never looked back, and in 2019 he won the ACM Artist of the Decade award.

28. Martina McBride

Martina McBride released her debut in 1992, and come the next decade she was already releasing a Greatest Hits collection. But she always made it clear that no matter how big a star she was, her family was her first priority. So McBride took a break from her career to raise her three daughters, and she’s also still happily married to husband John.

27. Brett Young

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Brett Young could have been a baseball player, but a serious injury stopped him in his tracks. So he decided to try to become a country music singer instead. His journey to the top was slow, but he made it in the end. By 2015 he had a recording contract and his star grew and grew from there. Come 2018 he received the New Male Vocalist of the Year prize at the ACMs. Oh, and he even has his own clothing company now.

26. Jana Kramer

Jana Kramer has had a pretty incredible life. She started off as an actress, appeared in shows such as One Tree Hill and then decided to become a country singer. Kramer’s 2012 debut track was a hit, but it’s perhaps her personal life that she makes the most headlines for. She’s had a rocky time with her husband Mike Caussin, and in 2020 they released a book about their relationship.

25. Gretchen Wilson

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Gretchen Wilson is still famous for just one song: “Redneck Woman.” It even picked up a Grammy in 2004. But Wilson’s remained a one-hit wonder, though it’s not for lack of trying. She released three albums in 2013 alone, and though they were well received by critics people just didn’t buy them. Tastes had, it seemed, changed.

24. Chris Stapleton

Chris Stapleton hit the big time with his 2015 debut and, well, his magnificent beard didn’t hurt matters either. These days he’s still a very successful artist, picking up several Grammys in 2018 and playing sold-out concerts. Stapleton’s also a father to four kids. And, of course, he still has the beard.

23. Blanco Brown

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Blanco Brown’s been a big name ever since 2014. He had a smash hit with “The Git Up” and even created a sub-genre of his very own, which he refers to as “TrailerTrap.” In 2019 he was named a country act to watch by Billboard magazine. But unfortunately 2020 dealt a major blow, as Brown was in a motorcycle accident and two 12-hour operations were required to save him. Thankfully, it’s been reported that he’ll recover.

22. George Strait

George Strait is another living legend of the country music world. He started out in the early 1980s and simply never went away. He has more ACM and CMA nominations than anyone else, and he’s shifted in excess of a hundred million units. In 2012 he stated that he would no longer tour, but despite that he still plays shows every now and again.

21. Keith Urban

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Keith Urban first found fame with his 1990s group The Ranch and just became even bigger from there. He then embarked on a solo career and by 2006 he’d picked up a Grammy. Urban’s just as famous for his marriage as his music, though. His wife is of course Nicole Kidman, and they both arrange their careers around their children. But Urban hasn’t slowed down – he released a new album in 2020.

20. Kelsea Ballerini

Kelsea Ballerini went to Nashville in his mid-teens to try to make it as a singer, and this turned out to be a very good move. She signed a deal before turning 20 and then released the song “Love Me Like You Mean It,” which was a big hit. Ballerini’s risen up the ranks ever since. And in 2020 she clapped back at people who criticized her stage costumes.

19. Luke Combs

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Luke Combs’ 2015 song “Hurricane” won him a record contact, and he’s been blowing up the charts ever since. In 2018 he released the song “Beautiful Crazy” and it quickly went viral on the web. The following year he bagged a Grammy nomination for Best New Artist. And in November 2020 he had another number one album – there’s just no stopping him.

18. Brad Paisley

Brad Paisley suddenly shot to stardom in 1999 when his debut attained platinum status. And he’s remained a country music superstar ever since. More recently you’ve probably seen him as an advisor on The Voice. Oh, and he has a reputation for being very funny on Twitter as well.

17. Faith Hill

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Faith Hill got her start in the 1990s and then Cupid struck, making her one half of a country super-couple. She and Tim McGraw wed in 1996 and have been together ever since. They make music together as well, and starting from 2017 they spent a couple of years on a tour appropriately called Soul2Soul. Plus, Hill still looks as great as she ever did.

16. Luke Bryan

Luke Bryan penned songs for country music stars before becoming one. But his life has been plagued by tragedy. His brother died in an automobile crash and in 2007 – just as Bryan was finding fame – his sister also passed away. The American Idol judge hasn’t let this destroy him, though. In 2014 he was voted CMA Entertainer of the Year and paid tribute to his lost loved ones.

15. Deana Carter

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Deana Carter had a massive hit on her hands with Did I Shave My Legs for This? in the 1990s. It even went multi-platinum. That kind of success is hard to sustain for too long, of course, and Carter also had a young son to look after. But despite taking a step back, she still performs live to this day.

14. The Dixie Chicks

Everyone knows what happened to the Dixie Chicks – when they criticized then President George W. Bush, their audience canceled them. For years they were pariahs in the country music world. But times changed, and now they’re seen to many as heroes of free speech. The group maintained a social conscience, too: in 2020 they changed their name to “The Chicks” because of Dixie’s connection with slavery.

13. Garth Brooks

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When Garth Brooks released his debut album in 1989 it had a good response, but probably no-one guessed at the time what a megastar he’d become. He ended up one of the most successful singers in country music ever. Brooks is the best-selling solo performer since American charts began and is still picking up awards left, right and center.

12. Mickey Guyton

Mickey Guyton is changing the face of the country music industry as a black female artist. She kick-started her career in 2011, when she performed a concert at the White House alongside big names like James Taylor and Lyle Lovett. And 2020 saw her make history as the only black woman to have played a self-penned track during an ACM ceremony.

11. Shania Twain

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Shania Twain didn’t become mega-famous until her sophomore release, The Woman in Me. But then she became one of the biggest stars of the 1990s. She’s slowed down a little bit since then, having stepped back from the industry in 2002 and also split from a husband who was cheating on her. Now she’s back in the game with new albums and tours.

10. Billy Ray Cyrus

Billy Ray Cyrus found fame in the 1990s with his global hit “Achy Breaky Heart” not to mention his fabulous hair. But younger people know him for something else other than the music: being the dad of notorious headline-grabber Miley Cyrus and her co-star on the kids’ show Hannah Montana.

9. Reba McEntire

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Reba McEntire has been releasing songs since the 1970s, but only in the following decade did she truly find fame. Now she’s considered one of the all-time greats of the country music world. McEntire’s still putting out music as well – she created album number 29 during 2019. Oh, and she’s also the mother-in-law to a big fan of hers, superstar Kelly Clarkson, as of 2013. Until Clarkson’s impending divorce, of course.

8. Darius Rucker

During the 1990s Darius Rucker was the lead singer of Hootie & the Blowfish. At the end of the decade, though, he struck out on his own. Rucker then started releasing country music records – and they were successful. Now he balances his country career with Hootie reunions. His personal life is also of interest, because in 2020 there were reports that he was in a relationship with actress Kate Quigley.

7. Loretta Lynn

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Loretta Lynn is a coal miner’s daughter turned superstar. After a ton of hard work she had her breakthrough in 1962 with the suitably titled “Success.” Since then she’s won multiple awards and even had a biopic made of her life, while fighting personal tragedies along the way. In more recent years she’s begun suffering from ill health, but she’s still a living legend.

6. Tim McGraw

Tim McGraw has been famous ever since the 1990s. He credits some of his success to his wife Faith Hill, whom he’s been married to since 1996. Not only do the pair form a super-couple of country music, but Hill also helped McGraw ditch his party-boy lifestyle and get healthy. After he collapsed while touring with her in 2018, he was able to put his well-being back on track, and he released a book about his health journey the following year.

5. Carrie Underwood

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Carrie Underwood is one of American Idol’s biggest success stories. After winning the fourth season, she released the 2005 album Some Hearts and it sold millions. From then on it was award after award, and the accolades still haven’t stopped: in 2020 the mom of two claimed Video of the Year at the CMTs.

4. Blake Shelton

Blake Shelton became a country music star during the early 2000s. And he’s kept his position at the top for a long time now, not to mention being deemed People magazine’s “Sexiest Man Alive” in 2017. His personal life makes headlines, too. As of 2020, he’s engaged to his fellow The Voice star Gwen Stefani.

3. Miranda Lambert

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Miranda Lambert has been in entertainment from a very young age. She was only 10 when she first took part in a country music talent contest. And all that hard work paid off, as she eventually became a megastar. By 2007 she was a Grammy award nominee. Lambert’s career is still going well, as is her love life – after a very high-profile marriage and divorce from Blake Shelton, she wed cop Brendan McLoughlin in 2019.

2. Dolly Parton

Let’s face it, there are few country music stars more beloved than Dolly Parton. She took the world by storm in the 1960s and gradually established herself as a whole lot more than just a pretty face. These days she even has a Netflix series based on her top hits, and she’s also noted as a philanthropist with her own charitable foundation.

1. Taylor Swift

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Back in 2009 when young country music singer Taylor Swift was interrupted by Kanye West at the VMAs, few could have predicted what would happen to her next. She went on to be one of the biggest stars in the world. Swift’s now a household name selling records all over the world, and a political activist as well.

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